When Computer Crimes Are Used To Silence Journalists

I wrote this for the EFF blog, and am cross-posting an excerpt here. 

This week, prosecutors in Brazil filed a criminal complaint against Glenn Greenwald, an internationally lauded journalist best known for publishing leaked documents detailing the NSA’s mass surveillance. Greenwald’s prosecution is an attempt to use computer crime law to silence an investigative reporter who exposed deep-seated government corruption. Sadly, this isn’t the first such effort and, unless we stop this drift to criminalizing journalism, it likely won’t be the last.

Greenwald has faced a prolonged and complicated legal standoff in Brazil since he published documents showing that a federal judge in Brazil colluded with prosecutors to convict former leftist president Lula da Silva. That conviction was crucial to preventing da Silva from running in the last election, which was instrumental in Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro successfully ascending to power. Greenwald published private chat conversations, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation provided by an anonymous source showing, among other things, the collusion between prosecutors and the judge, who has since been appointed as Brazil’s top judicial minister.

Since those articles were published, Greenwald and his family have dealt with legal threats (including a statement from President Bolsonaro that Greenwald could “do jail time”), death threats, and homophobic persecution.

Unfortunately, legal prosecution and character attacks are familiar tools used to silence investigative journalists who expose corruption. The use of cybercrime laws to do so, however, is relatively new.  This case is garnering special international attention in part because the current charges fly in the face of a decision by the Supreme Court of Brazil last year, in which the Court preemptively halted investigations against Greenwald. That decision upheld the rights of journalists to communicate directly with their sources, and stated that Greenwald’s acts deserved constitutional protection—regardless of the content published, or its impact on government interests. Continue reading “When Computer Crimes Are Used To Silence Journalists”

Relearning Russian as an Adult

In college, I spoke Russian all the time. I took a winter immersion course at Wellesley my sophomore year and found the language delightful. It was the first time I’d ever dug into the linguistic quirks of another language with such depth, and I discovered all these subtle and seemingly profound differences from English. I was fascinated by the way all verbs in Russian have two forms—one more focused on the process of doing something, the other more focused on the completed action, and that the latter could not be in the present tense, only the future or past. I also felt that adding a gender to every noun fundamentally impacted its character in ways lost to the English language, and my mind would fiddle over the exact meanings of colloquial Russian phrases.

Now, remembering how I learned Russian, I also think it was my first experience of meditation. Today, I consider thoughts to be something that can be cultivated over time through awareness and conscious choice. But in college my thoughts flew around like so many bats in a dark cave. It never occurred to me that there could be benefit from trying to bring order to them. The obsessiveness with which I picked up the language—and I could spend hours a day in rote memorization drills—was a way to force my brain to one single, carefully chosen idea at a time. Here, the word to go shopping. Here, the word for button. Here, the word for tail. All my dizzying, depressed thoughts would get locked away for however long it was necessary for me to complete my daily Russian practice.

Continue reading “Relearning Russian as an Adult”

Why I’m So Persistently Intrigued by Blockchain

After I changed jobs last September, I stopped doing a lot of digital activism. The break has been great, honestly. It’s hard to fight on NSA surveillance abuses, crackdowns on whistleblowers, and free speech violations for literally years at a time. It was in many ways easier to focus on strategy and the day-to-day challenges of keeping smart people happy in their jobs, coordinated in their work, and highly productive.

The one program area I kept in my docket was blockchain. I’ve published a bunch of different blog posts in the last few months exploring the collision of free expression and blockchain regulations:

Could Regulatory Backlash Entrench Facebook’s New Cryptocurrency Libra?

EFF and Open Rights Group Defend the Right to Publish Open Source Software to the UK Government

Why Outlawing Cryptocurrency Purchases by Americans is a Terrible Idea

Coin Center’s Report Explores Privacy Coins, Decentralized Exchanges, and the First Amendment

SEC’s Action Against Decentralized Exchange Raises Constitutional Questions

I also want to share a bit about why I’m interested in this issue, since my parents find it baffling.

My first job in consumer advocacy was at a scrappy but principled nonprofit called the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. In addition to writing consumer guides about protecting  privacy and cataloguing data breaches by companies, we’d get questions from consumers who were struggling with privacy issues. People could literally call us up on the phone and say, “I’m having this horrible privacy problem, do you have any suggestions?” We’d point them to our guides, or to other nonprofits working in the space, or sometimes we’d explain how to file a complaint with the appropriate regulatory agency. A lot of the time, we’d just tell them how to find an attorney, or ask them if they’d be interested in talking to the press.

Continue reading “Why I’m So Persistently Intrigued by Blockchain”

Our Yosemite Valley Wedding Adventure

Anton and I got married on September 15th of this year. We invited 80 loved ones out into the Sierra Nevada and said our vows on the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.

How can I begin to put into words the expanse of emotions and experiences packed into the two days we spent in the mountains getting married? It was both deeply intimate and almost uncomfortably public. I found my emotions skittering wildly in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

Throughout it, I found my hands reaching for Anton’s arm or hand, found myself tucking against him and looking up into his eyes to see the same delight and amazement I felt reflected back in his eyes. I’d feel anchored, steady, and connected. For a while at least, the pull and expectations of other people would fade behind the deeper connection between us.

This blog post includes details of our Yosemite wedding—the fantastic vendors we used, our vows, the ceremony in its entirety, and a sampling of the photos from the weekend. It’s mostly for me to remember everything, as well as to share with friends and family. It might also be useful if you are planning a Yosemite wedding.

360_rainey_anton.jpg Continue reading “Our Yosemite Valley Wedding Adventure”

We’re Not Foodies

I asked my partner what he considered the best dinner out we’d ever had. We were walking on a trail somewhere, and I sometimes use these random questions to pass the time. He didn’t answer flippantly, as I might have expected. Instead, he offered two moments.

First: we were in Brazil, on the island of Isla Grande with its rainforests and howler monkeys and mossy ruins and perfect white beaches. We found an unnamed beachside restaurant with chairs and tables just a few feet from the sand-lapping ocean, a full bar, and a small menu that changed daily. The lights on the entire island would flicker and go out often, casting the whole village into darkness, but it happened so regularly that the restaurant just casually lit candles and continued cooking with a propane stove. I was so thrilled with it, so enamored, that I asked my partner if we could eat there again the next day, and he said we could eat there every night we were on the island.

Second: we were hiking the Colorado Trail and we arrived on day 18 at Lake Ann, a small alpine lake tucked into the crook of a mountain. I had been struggling with intestinal issues for the last few days, and so I’d missed out on the decadence of real meals while we were in town. When we reached Lake Ann, my tummy had finally settled and the view was brilliant.  We had miles of valley below to enjoy and rejoice in before sleep. As we set up camp, my partner surprised me with a can of alcoholic root beer, a decadent treat I love and wasn’t able to enjoy when we were in town. We shared it on a rock overlooking a sun-kissed valley and fell asleep in the tent together.

These two meals weren’t remarkable because of what we ate. I don’t even remember what we ate. Maybe it was ramen (it likely was, at Lake Ann). These meals were unforgettable because of where we were, both in the world and in our relationship. Things were flowing—we were connecting, discovering each other. We were adventuring together, our senses attuned to the beauty of simple things—like a can of root beer on a rock watching the sunset, or a candle on a small table at the edge of the ocean.

I was reminded anew of one of the things I love most about my partner. He doesn’t care about expensive or “fancy” dinners out. No five star restaurants, no waiters, no cloth napkins (or any napkins). Just the two of us and the wonder of nature unfolding around us.

 

lake-ann-2
Lake Ann

Toilet paper, Tampons, and Phone Calls: Affording Prison in California

An interview with a recently released prisoner on the financial burdens associated with imprisonment

KT was incarcerated in California for one year over charges related to fraud. She is a friend of mine, but I did not find out she was in prison until she had served more than half of her sentence. When I learned she was incarcerated, I reached out to her family to offer support and began visiting her every week for her last couple months in prison. She was held in Dublin FCI, just a few miles from my house but very far from her home in Southern California.

In communicating with KT, I was struck by the huge impact of prison costs on not just KT’s life, but on her whole family. Seemingly small expenses in prison mounted and became burdensome for her wife and eventually created major rifts between family members, with ramifications that continued after KT left prison.

This interview was conducted 19 days after KT was released in early December, 2017.

Continue reading “Toilet paper, Tampons, and Phone Calls: Affording Prison in California”

Midweek Camping

I started new project this month: sleeping outside one night a week.

It works like this: I come to work extra early, and then I feel less guilty about heading out at 4:30 or 5. I fight through the San Francisco traffic until I reach a wilderness permit station, pick up the permit that’s waiting for me in a box out front for latecomers, then head out to a campsite. I stop on the way and buy a veggie wrap, throw it in my backpack, then park at a trailhead, strap on my pack, and hike out. I pass people on the trails, and they eye my backpack. I assemble the tent, devour half a wrap, let the sun set all around me, zip away the world and stare up through the bug netting at the endless stars or the mist or the clouds or the hillsides. I wake before 6, and I run or I don’t run, and I’m back in the office by 8 AM, slipping into the shower on the first floor, settled in my office chair before 9.

The idea is to get wilderness into my life, in small bits and pieces, whenever I can.

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Sierras in Deep Snow

Ignoring the strong warnings of the National Park Service—including my partner, who is a ranger for the Park—I organized an all-women backpacking trip to the Yosemite High Sierras for the weekend of July 4. Normally the Sierras are passable by early July, but record-setting snowpack this past winter meant many areas are still socked in with 6+ feet of snow and ice. Streams that are normally passable by now are violent, uncrossable rivers. Trails aren’t visible. And unfortunately, none of us had any experience backpacking in winter conditions on this scale.

The three of us walked, slid, postholed, stumbled, climbed, and—during one particularly difficult spot—crawled from the Cathedral Trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows to the top of Half Dome and then down to Yosemite Valley over the course of three days. It’s a trip that I believed would be on the easy side of moderate when I first planned it, a trip that would have been fine on a normal year, but which turned into the most physically challenging and dangerous backpacking trip of my life.

Continue reading “Sierras in Deep Snow”